“ It was unfortunate to have to turn around so far into the race, but it’s better for the boat”
Having reluctantly decided to end his attempt to sail to New York on board Pen Duick II, Loïck Peyron today spoke of his disappointment at not being able to complete his tribute voyage to Eric Tabarly and Mike Birch.
After almost two weeks at sea, sailing alongside the modern racing boats in The Transat bakerly fleet, Peyron was forced to turn round and head downwind to France on Sunday. The relentless upwind slog of the north-Atlantic had taken its toll on the old wooden ketch, damaging the headstays and making further upwind work impossible.
Speaking to The Transat bakerly organisers this morning, the legendary French skipper, who has won The Transat three times and also holds the non-stop, fully-crewed round-the-world record, admitted he was disappointed but said it was the right decision.
“It was unfortunate to have to turn around so far into the race, but it’s better for the boat,” Peyron explained. “It’s the way it had to be, but it’s disappointing.
“The voyage was fun until we hit the bad weather, and then it got a little difficult. The course was nice, but it was very windy and the sea-state was not fun. I return to France empty-handed, but the decision was not hard to make.”
A hugely popular and successful figure in world sailing and a national treasure in France, Peyron inspired a nation with his historic and nostalgic endeavour. Although he did not manage to follow Tabarly’s tracks all the way to New York, he did achieve what he set out to - shine a light on the legends of sailing’s past.
“My state of mind is good. Life goes on and there are others worse off than I am,” the charismatic skipper continued. “I always take pleasure in sailing and I constantly think of Eric Tabarly and the pioneers of our sport.”
Faced with the harsh conditions of the north Atlantic aboard a 44ft wooden boat for 13 days, Peyron experienced firsthand the slow, wet and uncomfortable sailing conditions that Tabarly would have endured during his race-winning 27-day voyage across the Atlantic in 1964.
“These boats are slow and the sailing is not easy,” Peyron admitted. “Especially sailing head-on into depression after depression. I thought of Tabarly doing this race, the speed of the boat and the conditions he faced - he kept going all the way to the end. Our pioneers suffered a lot for their sport. To experience what they did is a memory that will stay with me.”
Strong headwinds and waves are taking their toll on the remaining boats still racing in The Transat bakerly. Every day, there are new reports of torn sails, damage to boats and exhausted, sleep-deprived sailors having to spend time bailing water – but all the skippers are determined to make it to Manhattan.
Erik Nigon on the Multi50 Vers un Monde Sans Sida is the next competitor expected to cross the finish line tomorrow evening. Now battling the changeable conditions of the Gulf Stream, a usually cheery Nigon was this morning feeling the strain.
“The last two days have been particularly complicated,” he said. “I have left the winds of the Azores High and entered into the big breeze of the Gulf Stream. I have not been able to put my pilot on and I am exhausted. I cannot sleep - I have to stay at the helm.”
Pierre Antoine’s Olmix today became the second Multi50 to lose a daggerboard to the concrete waves of the Atlantic. Currently in fourth place, Antoine will continue to the finish line in New York.
In the Class40 fleet, Thibaut Vauchel-Camus on Solidaires en Peloton-Arsep still leads the charge, while third-placed Louis Duc on Carac is piling on the pressure from the south. Still fighting in second position, Phil Sharp on Imerys, is having to sail with the top section of his mainsail ripped in half.
“After some time spent with the boat stopped trying to repair the sail, I realised such an extensive job wouldn’t be possible with the limited materials on board,” he explained. “I’ve rigged up a temporary solution with rope that should hopefully get me to the finish line. It is not pretty or fast, but it should get us there.”
Despite the many hurdles Sharp has had to overcome during the race, the British skipper has never strayed far from the top-three. The latest disaster in the Sharp saga is arguably the most serious yet, but this is a sailor who doesn’t know the meaning of the phrase “give-up.”
“It is hugely disappointing to realise I can’t challenge for the lead anymore in this race,” he said. “But based on the current advantage I have over the other boats, there is still a good fight to try and be on the podium.
“I’m now right back in full racing mode still tying to get the last 0.1 knot out the boat. It has been difficult to digest what has happened, but to finish on the podium would be amazing under the circumstances.”
The first Class40 is expected to arrive in New York on Thursday.